Smoke and Ashes
Author: Amitav Ghosh
9789356992757 | HC | pp. 395 | 2023 | Fourth Estate
Smoke and Ashes explores how India, under the aegis of the British Empire, became the world’s largest producer of opium between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ghosh examines the different conditions under which opium was produced in various regions and the lasting effects for those areas. He also connects the dots between the opium trade, China, and the world today.
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When the author, Amitav Ghosh, began his research for the Ibis Trilogy some twenty years ago, he was startled to find how the lives of the nineteenth-century sailors and soldiers he wrote of were dictated not only by the currents of the Indian Ocean, but also by opium: a precious commodity carried in enormous quantities on those currents. Most surprising of all was the discovery that his own identity and family history were swept up in the story.
Smoke and Ashes is at once a travelogue, a memoir and an excursion into history, both economic and cultural. Ghosh traces the transformative effect the opium trade had on Britain, India and China, as well as on the world at large. Engineered by the British Empire, which exported opium from India to sell in China, the trade and its revenues were essential to the Empire’s survival. Upon deeper exploration, Ghosh finds opium at the origins of some of the world’s biggest corporations, several of America’s most powerful families and institutions, and contemporary globalism itself. In India the long-term consequences were even more profound.
Moving deftly between horticultural histories, the mythologies of capitalism and the social and cultural repercussions of colonialism, Smoke and Ashes reveals the pivotal role one small plant has played in the making of the world as we know it – a world that is now teetering on the edge of catastrophe.
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